Imagining a Better Future by Re-imagining the Past

Saturday, May 30, 2020

A Man Was Lynched Yesterday

Jesse Washington was an African-American seventeen-year-old farmhand in Texas. In 1916, he was convicted of raping and murdering the wife of his white employer in rural Robinson, Texas. After the conviction, he was chained by his neck and dragged out of the county court by observers. He was then paraded through the street, all while being stabbed and beaten, before being held down and castrated. He was then lynched in front of Waco's city hall.

Over 10,000 spectators, including city officials and police, gathered to watch the attack. There was a celebratory atmosphere among whites at the spectacle of the murder. Many children attended during their lunch hour. Members of the mob cut off his fingers and hung him over a bonfire after saturating him with coal oil. He was repeatedly lowered and raised over the fire for about two hours. After the fire was extinguished, his charred torso was dragged through the town, and parts of his body were sold as souvenirs. A professional photographer took pictures as the event unfolded, providing rare imagery of a lynching in progress. The photographs were printed and sold as postcards in Waco.

In response to this horrific event, the NAACP developed a flag with white text, "A MAN WAS LYNCHED YESTERDAY" on a black background. This flag served as a means to protest the lynching of Washington and other African-Americans in the United States.

The NAACP flag exhibited by the Library of Congress

The flag was flown each day after news of a lynching reached the NAACP. It flew 73 times in the period for lynchings in the state of Georgia alone. The NAACP stopped the practice in 1938 after it was threatened with eviction by their landlords over the matter. The original flag survives and is now in the collection of the Library of Congress.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Never Was Lounge

Dieselpunk owes its existence to certain individuals who not only helped spread the word of it during its early days but helped to hammer out what the genre would come to mean. We call them the Founding Fathers of Dieselpunk.

Nick Ottens is one of those Founding Fathers.

Nick Ottens continues to be active in Dieselpunk. His most recent project is a new online community named “Never Was Lounge.”

The Never Was Lounge has different rooms dedicated to various genre-punk topics such as Steampunk, Dieselpunk, and Atomicpunk. It also has rooms for discussions about Future (Cyberpunk, etc..)  and Creative Writing. There’s a room labeled Speakeasy where members can hang out and chat about whatever is on their minds.

Even though the world is starting to reopen, there will always be a need for online contact. That genie is out of the bottle and isn't going back in. The Never Was Lounge is a great opportunity for Dieselpunks to hang out online and share their thoughts with other retronauts.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Hollywood Miniseries

“What if you could rewrite the story?” - Hollywood miniseries slogan

The cornucopia of fresh small screen dieselpunk continues. One of the newest crops is the miniseries Hollywood on Netflix.

Set immediately after World War II, Hollywood follows the lives of several people hoping to make it big in the movies. The cast of characters consists of both fictional and real-life individuals.

Hollywood plays loose with history. Many critics have pointed out that Hollywood's portrayal of real-world individuals such as Rock Hudson and his agent Henry Wilson aren’t completely accurate.

However, Hollywood, while historical in setting, isn’t meant to be taken as history. It is, as one reviewer called it, “counterfactual.” Or as we would say, it’s Dieselpunk.

Hollywood was created by Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan. It has an all-star cast including Jim Parsons and Queen Latifah and more.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

The Seeds of War

As I write this blog entry it’s May 8th of 2020, which marks the 75th anniversary of the surrender of Germany in World War 2. While it’s a day of celebration we must never forget the events that led to the war.

We can’t overstate the role of the Treaty of Versaille. At the end of the Great War, under intense pressure from the Allies, Germany signed the treaty that required massive reparations and required that they largely disarm. The treaty severely hampered the German economy and was a source of humiliation for the German people, which radicals used to their political advantage.

This leads us to another major factor in the cause of the war: economics. The German economy was devastated by the war. As it rebuilt it was heavily dependent upon foreign investment. When the Great Depression hit the United States the German economy was unable to stand on its own. Communist and fascist parties took advantage of the German economic problems to gain followers.

Out of fear of the Communists, the German Conservative political leaders created an informal alliance with the Nazi party. They thought the Nazis could be controlled. They were very much mistaken. Hitler, who had been appointed Chancellor, took advantage of the Reichstag fire to become dictator of Germany in 1933.

Germany wasn’t the only dictatorship of the Diesel Era. Many don’t realize that Fascism actually arose first in Italy in 1922. And Japan entered the Shōwa period seven years before the Nazi party came to power. While the Soviet Union wasn’t fascist it was certainly a dictatorship under Stalin, who consolidated his power in 1927.

During the Great War, Czechoslovakia had become an independent nation. Hitler wanted to annex the Sudetenland, an area in western Czechoslovakia where many Germans lived. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain wanted to appease Hitler and agreed to his demands for the Sudetenland after Hitler promised he would not demand more territory.

However, Hitler had no intention of settling for just the Sudetenland. In March of 1939, he seized the rest of Czechoslovakia and then moved on to seize Poland. The UK responded with an ultimatum to Germany to cease military operations, and on September 3rd, after the ultimatum was ignored, France and Britain declared war on Germany. 

Looking back it can seem easy to spot the errors that led to the war. However, rather than passing judgment, we should strive to learn from their mistakes so as to try to avoid making them ourselves in the future.

Saturday, May 2, 2020


Recently the school board of the Matanuska-Susitna (Mat-Su) Borough School District in Palmer, Alaska, voted to remove five of the twelve books on the 11th grade English reading list because they were considered to contain “controversial” content.

While we all should be concerned about censorship this action hits close to home for Dieselpunks. Four of the five books removed are set during the Diesel Era. Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sing begins in the 1930s and goes through the 1950s, Heller’s Catch-22 is set during World War II, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was written and is set in the early 1920s, and Ellison’s Invisible Man is set in the 1930s. The one book that doesn’t have a Diesel Era connection is O’Brien’s Only The Things They Carried, which involves the Vietnam War. 

There were numerous cases of censorship during the Diesel Era. Most are familiar with the book burnings by the Nazi regime in the 1930s. However, censorship wasn’t limited to Germany for America banned several books during the Diesel Era. America just wasn't as theatrical as the Germans. One of the worst offenders in America was the city of Boston. Boston in the 1920s banned Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms. In addition, in the 1920s Boston also banned Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis, An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser, and Lady Chatterley’s Lover D.H. Lawrence.

Censorship didn’t end in America after the 1920s.  The following were all banned in America during the Diesel Era: The Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller (1934), The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939), Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor (1944), and Memoirs of Hecate County by Edmund Wilson (1946).  

The National Coalition Against Censorship has written to the Matanuska-Susitna (Mat-Su) Borough School board to protest the removal of these books. You can read more about the NCAC protest here.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Perry Mason Miniseries

"The way I see it... there's what's legal, and there's what's right." - Perry Mason (HBO Miniseries)

This is a great time for dieselpunks when it comes to small screen entertainment. My readers know that this month we have the Dieselpunk series Penny Dreadful: City Of Angels. Soon we’ll have some more Diesel Era goodness: Perry Mason.

According to the HBO website:

Set in 1932 Los Angeles, the series will focus on the origin story of famed defense lawyer Perry Mason, based on characters from Erle Stanley Gardner’s novels. Living check-to-check as a low-rent private investigator, Mason is haunted by his wartime experiences in France and suffering the effects of a broken marriage.

L.A. is booming while the rest of the country recovers from the Great Depression — but a kidnapping gone very wrong leads to Mason exposing a fractured city as he uncovers the truth of the crime.

The HBO miniseries will have some big names. The new Perry Mason series will star John Lithgow, Matthew Rhys, and Tatiana Maslany. Plus, one of the executive-producers will be Robert Downey Jr.

It's obvious that HBO’s Perry Mason is closer to the original novel than the long-running television series of the 1950s- 60s was. The first Perry Mason novel was The Case of the Velvet Claws published in 1933. In this novel Perry Mason describes himself:

You'll find that I'm a lawyer who has specialized in trial work, and in a lot of criminal work...I'm a specialist on getting people out of trouble. They come to me when they're in all sorts of trouble, and I work them out ... If you look me up through some family lawyer or some corporation lawyer, he'll probably tell you that I'm a shyster. If you look me up through some chap in the District Attorney's office, he'll tell you that I'm a dangerous antagonist but he doesn't know very much about me.

Perry Mason is scheduled to debut on HBO on June 21, 2020.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Mint Julep Jazz Band

You gotta love streaming media services. I’ve gotten in late on Spotify, which is free to download and play. I’m glad that I finally joined it because I’ve found some great Dieselpunk music.

One of my favorites is Spotify’s “Mint Julep Jazz Band Radio.” Just as the name implies, this Spotify ‘radio station’ plays tunes from not only the Mint Julep Jazz Band but by others of the same style. The result is a fantastic mix of tunes from bands such as Naomi and Her Handsome Devils, the California Feetwarmers, the Boilermaker Jazz Band, the Hot Sugar Band, and many more.  

Mint Julep Jazz Band in concert.
For those unfamiliar with the Mint Julep Jazz Band, it’s a ‘little big band’ out of Durham, North Carolina consisting of just 4 horns, a rhythm section, and vocalist Laura Windley. They may be small but the Mint Julep Jazz Band carries a wallop with the sound of a full-size big band that successfully recreates the hot jazz sounds of the 1920′s, 1930's, and early 1940s. They play not only classic Jazz Age tunes but their own originals.

You ought to check out the Mint Julep Jazz Band Radio on Spotify. You’ll be glad that you did.